Having had a little time to think about it, I realised that the one thing I didn’t do in yesterday’s post is differentiate between blocos and the main procession thing that everyone thinks of when they hear “Carnival in Rio”. The big procession thing is called Desfile das Escolas de Samba (Procession of the Samba Schools). It’s the thing you see on the news each year, held in the Sambadrome – a big long street, lined with masses of tiered seating:
I haven’t been to this thing – tickets are really expensive and to be honest, I’m not that keen. Don’t get me wrong, it looks spectacular and I definitely want to see it one day, but just sitting there watching from the side seems a bit passive, you know? Maybe I’ll go in a few years when I’m older and richer.
So if you’re not at the Sambadrome, you should be at a bloco, and if you’re at a bloco then you should have an outfit!
I have just got back from shopping for my carnival outfits and I have to say, it rivals Christmas shopping in terms of unpleasantness. If you’re in the Rio, then the place to go is SAARA (Sociedade dos Amigos das Adjacências da Rua da Alfândega). This network of pedestrianised streets, lined with all kinds of interesting shops, is a great place to visit at any time of year and there is a great Syrian/Lebanese restaurant (Sírio e Libanês) that I highly recommend.
But in the run-up to carnival, this place transforms. It seems like every shop is stuffed full of carnival costume clothes and props (here they call carnival costume fantasia). And it also seems like half of Rio is trying to buy its costume at the same time as you – think people bumping into you and not saying sorry, looong queues to pay, everyone hustling and bustling around in a hurry. Everyone is on a deadline to get their fantasia before the start of carnival.
So, what are you going to dress up as? Here are my top tips:
1. Choose something lightweight. You are going to be wearing this thing all day, dancing, walking, drinking, dancing again. You are going to be exhausted anyway so don’t make it harder on yourself by dressing up in a realistic-looking rhinoceros costume. Like the rhinoceros, you probably won’t make it…
2. Choose something durable. You saw the pictures from yesterday right? Many blocos get very busy and from time to time you will find yourself having to squeeze through dense crowds. If you have a set of 2 metre wide dragonfly wings made out of wire and papier-mâché, they’re not going to last long.
3. Why not try to be original? OK, this is just my pet peeve – loads of people are super-lazy when it comes to dressing up for a bloco. They just buy a pirate set (eye patch, a hat, a cutlass) or a clown set (red nose, curly wig, spotty shirt) and then show up to find that everyone has done the same! A lot of people told me last year that it would be impossible to dress up like a cockroach, but I showed them! I made my own costume with wings and antennae and do you know what? I was the only cockroach there…
4. If you can’t be original, be topical. Last year, the film Black Swan had been showing in cinemas in the months before carnival and there were some great black swans.
5. If all else fails, cross dress. I’m not sure if I have mentioned this before, but the average Brazilian male is a fairly macho kind of creature. Many Brazilian men (well, many heterosexual Brazilian men) seem to live in fear that someone, some day, will suspect them of being gay. Well, all that goes out the window during carnival! It’s like the shackles come off and they can finally express the inner ballerina or fairy that wants to come out!